For a while, it was all “lights, camera, action” — with strange, fascinating, and devastating events and developments staring me down at just about every traffic light and street corner that I either stopped at or rolled up on. But now, things have settled down into this sinister, ominous calm, and in addition to life feeling a little anticlimactic (by comparison), days leave me feeling dizzy and disenchanted as they pop up and then dip out uneventfully, and nights have become terribly, awfully quiet.
And this quiet — this lack of activity, this absence of engagement, this silence for sound.. this is what it feels like:
Like I’m carrying a dead person and their memories around on my back. I can feel the solid weight of their arms of legs dragging me towards the ground; the hardness of their skull clanking against mine. It’s a heavy load. I’m just waiting to feel alright again, and I feel like that means, eventually, dumping this body off on the side of the road somewhere.. when I’m ready to. And when it’s ready to let go. When the time comes for both of us to move on, and when it seems right for both of us.
This is what it looks like:
An empty parking lot on Christmas day. Have you ever driven around town on a big holiday? Yeah? Then you know that parking lots are truly deserted. There could be leaves rustling across the concrete, and there might be some wind howling.. but there are no faces, and no voices; just stark silence. You can probably picture it.. the absence of motion. You can probably even kind of hear it — the profound “nothing” in the air; the stillness of the atmosphere. It’s almost otherworldly. Ghostly.
What is smells and tastes like:
Old shortbread cookies.. stale. Forgotten in the cupboard above the sink. Completely unremarkable.
I really just want to sleep all day after I’ve slept all night. Instead, I get up and take care of the dog. I go through the motions of keeping the house clean for showings,and I eat salad as a kind gesture towards – an investment in – future, “happy” me. I’m assuming he’ll exist, anyways. In an effort to be cautious and responsible, I wear my gear when I skateboard and my armored leather “everything” (pants, gloves, jacket) when I hop onto the motorcycle. I brush my teeth and floss every day, because getting a cavity certainly won’t help anything. I pay the bills, bathe, and smile when anyone’s around. At work, it’s easy to be happy; I become preoccupied, lost, in a job that I love, and I’m honestly able to – for the most part – forget about my own, weird, personal reality. But the human element, outside of work, has been difficult for me to handle.. to deal with. Here are just a few recent “incidences. ”
- Like, I’m just trying to order coffee right now..
I dipped into a coffee joint downtown a little over a month ago. I walked inside, with my backpack hanging off of my left shoulder and my beanie fitted snugly on my head, and approached the front counter. A bohemian-looking girl (presumably in her early 20s) stood behind it, smiling at me. She asked what I wanted to order (just a peppermint mocha latte, please).
“Sure thing,” she answered, grabbing a paper cup and a sharpie. “And what’s your name?”
“Ooooooooh, Jace!” She set the cup back down, my name now scribbled onto it, and rested both of her elbows onto the counter, leaning forward and staring up at me. “What does Jace mean?”
“What does it mean”? I thought to myself. What do you mean, “What does it mean?”
“It’s.. just a name, really,” I responded quietly (but politely).
“Okay.. wow, I LOVE your necklace!” She then reached over the counter and proceeded to hold the blue-green glass pendant (with the Jewish symbol for the word ‘dream’ etched onto its surface) between her fingers. “Where did you get it?”
“At the Moss Rock Festival a few weeks back,” I answered her quickly, shifting the weight of my body onto my right foot and gazing down, automatically, at my own shirt, her wrist directly in my line of vision.
“And what about the other one.. this here?” She moved her fingers and nodded towards the other pendant I had strung onto the same leather string: it contained the silver outline of a fox with the words “magic” and “adventure” engraved on the back.
“That one I got at Books, Beans and Candles — a small shop downtown.”
“Oh yeah! I’ve heard of that place! I should really check it out sometime. How often do you go there, Jace?”
Is she.. asking me to invite her there? I wondered to myself. Like.. does she want me to go WITH her? Is this flirting? Is that what’s happening to me right now? Very quickly, I responded: “Never. I’ve only gone like once in the last year.”
She moved her hand away slowly, settled it onto the counter, and then she looked at me for about five seconds straight without saying anything (apparently, waiting for me to say something). I dropped my eyes to the floor, honestly wanting to just walk out and leave without the peppermint mocha latte. Finally:
“Well alright then, Jace. Have a great day.” And, with a very swift turn of her body, she stormed away from the counter, her black, fishnet stockings a dizzy blur as she disappeared into the back of the store. Jesus.
2. We’ll update our records.
There’s this place in Hoover — a store that will buy back your gently used, trendy (subjective) clothes. You might know the name of it. Anyways, in the wake of some recent and striking self-revelations, I had about 4 bags of clothes that I needed to haul out of my closet, and after objectively assessing the situation, I decided that some of these articles of clothing might qualify as “trendy.” I donated three of the bags to a local thrift store and then took the fourth one by this “buy back” store, hoping to make a couple of dollars that I would, most likely, turn around and spend on a Chipotle burrito. I walked into the “buy back” store on a Sunday afternoon, dropped off my items, and got an ETA on how long it would take for them to review and process my bag. “About an hour,” the trendy hipster girl wearing a dainty muscle tee and silver-gray hair informed me.
“Sounds good! I’m going grocery shopping, but I’ll be back soon.” As per usual, you’re giving out too much information. You’re so lame, I shook my head at myself.
“Kay,” she answered.
I returned to the store just a little over an hour later (true to my word, I had gone grocery shopping) and took my place in line, waiting to cash out any of the items that they had deemed trendy and worthy of purchasing from me (here I’ll mention that I had strategically placed a denim, mini-dress from Urban Outfitters at the very top of the bag; yep — they took it!). Once I reached the front of the line, another hipster (this one had streaks of purple in her hair) looked up at me quickly, smiled cutely, and asked for my name.
“Jaceeeee,” the girl echoed me. “Nice name,” she murmured absentmindedly, pressing keys as she, I assume, pulled up my “file” in the system.
“Thanks!” I smiled down at the counter.
She handed me $9 (YES! Precisely enough for a burrito) and directed me to the manager of the store, who was at the very end of the counter, holding onto my bag of unpurchased items and waiting to return them to me. I recognized her – this manager – immediately; we’ll call her Ally. I had, five years before this date, worked at a local credit union as a teller and had waited on Ally dozens of times. She had known me as Rose then; the hippie girl with long hair and a “thing” for making hemp bracelets.
As the purple-haired girl called out to Ally that Jace was ready to pick up her (ouch; it always hurts) unwanted items, Ally stopped short and looked at me. “Jace?” she repeated softly. She looked down at the ticket. “That’s strange.. we have you in the system as Amber Rose.”
“That makes sense; I used to be Amber Rose.”
Her face lit up knowingly. “I remember.” She paused and smiled at me, her eyes wide (ohhhhhhh, so you wanna be a BOY now). She was wearing a black, cropped top that fell half-way down her stomach. High rise, acid-wash jeans hugged her hips. Her arms were covered in black-ink tattoos. “We’ll be sure to update our system, Jace.”
“Thanks!” I smiled, nodded and left quickly, hurriedly locating the big, blue donation bin in the middle of the parking lot and tossing the bulging bag of skirts, dresses and cardigans into its mouth.
3. Yeah.. that’s really more of a porn star name, isn’t it?
I’m not even going to be detailed on this one. We’ll keep things vague. Someone in the public asked for my name last week. When I told them that it was Jace, they asked: “So what made your parents decide to name you Jace?” Interesting question, huh?
“Actually, I chose Jace. My parents named me Amber Rose. I grew up and realized that it didn’t really.. fit my personality.”
“Yeah.. Amber Rose is more of a porn star name, isn’t it?”
“Well. That is what the kids in school used to say.”
(I was going to insert a photo of willthereal Amber Rose pleasestandup here, but they were all a little too risque for my liking. Google the name if you care to.)
4. Jack fruit made me cry.
I’ve been trying to cut down on expenses recently, and one of those expenses is groceries. While shopping at Whole Foods this morning (carefully weighing options, comparing brands, calculating costs and picking up ingredients for salad, pasta, and homemade cookies), I saw him — Chris; my ex-husband — working in the produce section, chopping fruit. I stopped by the counter to greet him and to hand him money from the recent sale of our old living room love seat, media stand and coffee table. “Hey, thanks!” he smiled warmly, coming around the corner to take the cash and greet me. I smiled back at him. “So! How’s your week going?”
“Good,” he answered brightly. “Want to try a piece of jack fruit?”
“Sure! Yes, definitely.” This is so totally normal. Talking. Seeing you. Accepting your proffered piece of jack fruit.
He returned to the back to cut off a piece and then walked back out to the front and handed it to me; he was about two feet away from where I was standing. I bit into the piece of jack fruit and complimented its mildly sweet taste. He returned to the work area and we continued to make small talk from either side of the counter. He chatted about his new dog, a 3-legged mixed breed that he had found wandering along the side of the road a few weeks back. “Taco?” I quizzed him. “You’re really naming the dog Taco?”
He mentioned a new anime TV show that he’d started binge-watching on Netflix. It sounded interesting; a girl in Tokyo who tries to put a band together. I told him I’d totally check it out sometime.
I asked how his thumb was doing — he had accidentally cut it the previous week and had to have 8 stitches applied to the area. “It feels weird, but it doesn’t hurt at all,” he responded simply.
He talked briefly about David Bowie, Seasick Records, and a new track he was working on. I said that I was going to go ahead and check out, but that it was really nice seeing him. He nodded, smiled. I quickly rounded the corner with my cart and paused on the baking aisle — unrefined flours, fair-trade chocolate bars, and tiny, over-priced boxes of organic baking soda were all perched statically on the shelves bordering the aisle. A woman carrying a basket passed by me, on my left. I stared ahead at a container of ginger mints that were eye-level for about 30 seconds. Tears were welling up in my eyes and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Right there; he was right there, just a few feet in front of me. But it felt like he was light years away from me. I took a deep breath, made a beeline for the nearest register, and fled the store.
It’s an interesting and disconcerting thing to pass through; losing all romantic feelings for a person while retaining a deep, genuine, and unconditional love for them. It’s a very strange sort of hell. There is a sore, tender part of my heart that still holds onto him — that will always belong to him; a small but substantial corner that is simultaneously light and dark, strong and sensitive.. a corner that beats steadily, with life, and aches to death. A mental image of his smile squeezes the corner; my heart tightens and it hurts. In my mind, a memory — an audible recollection of his voice, his laugh — pierces right through the muscle and leaves the torn and trembling flesh feeling raw. It is simply too much to handle right now. So, as is my custom, I process my grief by shelving it. I keep a buffer zone of carefully crafted defenses there at the corner, vigilantly guarding the perimeter, and let nothing come close to touching that part of me. I scarcely even allow my own thoughts and feelings to wander there. It’s sacred ground; it’s also as dangerous as quicksand. The grief, if taken all at once, would equate to a dosage so close to being lethal that I won’t even chance subjecting myself to it. Instead, I take the grief off of the shelf and process it slowly.. early in the morning, a few words on a page. When I’m feeling stronger, more clear headed, strings of words (maybe three or four lines); I work myself up to a couple of pages, and on my bravest and strongest days, I can make it through an entire chapter. Eventually, maybe someday, I will have accepted and experienced and read all of it. Right now, all I can tell you is this: The essential loss of a soul who I loved more than any other person on the planet has left me feeling pretty damn leery of investing myself so fully in another human being ever again, and that’s why I’m here tonight.
Here: Church Street Coffee. Sitting at a table in the back of the store and trying to take care of myself. It’s another local coffee joint (one that I can now cross off on my list as “visited”). I’m on an unofficial endeavor to purchase a beverage from each locally-owned coffee place in Birmingham; so far, I have 5 cafes under my belt. Stay tuned as, in coming months, I’ll publish my findings.
I was lying in bed at 5:15 this evening, contemplating foregoing dinner and falling asleep for the night, when I decided that I needed to get the hell out of the house. I had taken Bruster (the German Shepherd) for a long hike earlier on in the afternoon, so I knew he’d be content at home without me. I topped off his water, let him outside again, and poured two cups of expensive-ass dog food into his silver bowl. I took a shower, slipped into some black jeans and rainbow Vans, and tugged an outer-space T and blue/yellow beanie on over my head. I thought about wearing my recently purchased tie.. it usually makes me feel better.. but the thought slipped from my mind as I pulled my laptop out from underneath the bed and slid it carefully into my backpack.
I left the house via the garage door, ducked into my Neon and googled “coffee birmingham.” I decided, due to the fact that it was open until 10 PM instead of 8 PM, to give Church Street Coffee a go. I GPSed my way to the place, walked inside, and began to feel the melancholy – like a heavy, wool jacket – slip off of my shoulders. I ordered a peppermint mocha latte at the front counter from a girl with short, blue hair (I looked up just now and she’s actually dancing in the lobby) and then situated myself at a small table in the back corner of the room. The lights in here are dim. There is, to my immediate left, a study group (4 persons) pouring over books and laptops at a table, a pair of teenage girls (who look like they just finished working out) sitting cross-legged on brown leather chairs, and a couple sipping on drinks and sitting at a small, two-person table off in the distance. Another guy (sitting near the bookcase, which is currently featuring a book about deer and a display of Alabama honey) is wearing headphones and working on his laptop (like I am), except he’s actually a guy, and I’m stuck in this body.
As you can probably tell, I’m still in the process of making peace with my decision to transition without surgery or hormones. It’s a decision that I’m absolutely committed to (because I’m firmly and wholly unwilling to toy with my body’s natural biology/chemistry), but it still hurts. I reason through the whole situation quite often — I sort through the facts, feelings and desires and apply logic to them and, every single time, I arrive at the same conclusion (which is: you’re stuck; you’re going to be a biological woman forever and you might as well get OVER it), but it still f*cking hurts. Logic and reasoning aside, there is still a deep sense of loss inside of me that I don’t think I’ll ever really “recover” from. To cap off the evening, here’s scenario 5:
You’ll always be a ma’am to us, Jace.
I stepped into Urban Outfitters yesterday afternoon and thought to myself: “You know what? I’m not even going to play around today. There just isn’t time for it. I’m not going to mosey, stupidly and aimlessly, through the women’s section FOR SHOW and then casually, accidentally? slip into the guys’ area.. nope. Today, I’m going there STRAIGHTAWAY, and you know what? No one’s going to give a single shit, and some people might even think that I’m actually a guy shopping in the guy’s section.”
So, bravely and boldly, I embarked on my mission.. and I kid you freaking not. About 10 steps into the store, as I was heading directly for the dude’s graphic tees, a male associate with long, blonde hair called out kindly (but almost interceptingly): “Anything I can help you with today, ma’am?”
I laughed a little (what else can you do?) and smiled at him. “Nope — but thanks! I appreciate it.”
We’re sorry, but we are unable to validate your inner identity at this time. Please try back again later.
So, obviously, I’m still figuring it all out. This coffee shop is closing in about 15 minutes (the owner just walked over and gave me a complimentary cinnamon raisin scone; giving this place 5 stars!), so I’m going to drive “home” and sleep for awhile. Tomorrow is going to be wonderful.. even better than today was. I’m going to pet Bruster, prepare a salad, and tote this haunted body around some more. A few closing thoughts:
- Don’t make your happiness dependent upon someone or something you can’t control. It’s a dangerous way to live. Enjoy the friendship and companionship of others, sure, but make sure that you’re able to enjoy your own company (because someday, that very well may be the only company you keep).. and if, presently, you discover that you really DON’T enjoy your own company, spend some time getting to know yourself. Make changes if you need to, make changes if you want to. Just do you.
- If you’re ever feeling really down and out, get out of the house. Speaking from experience – it honestly helps.